Paying Attention: Mending Your Heart-Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Kids think they are the first generation to dream up trouble, as if parents were hatched full-grown and have no clue.  But, parents see down the road to the consequences of kids’ actions.  They’ve either been there or lived long enough to see what is coming.  It drives kids crazy the way parents are always predicting bad things are going to happen.  My mom would say: “That glass is going to get knocked off the counter if you sit it too close to the edge.”  Or, “You are going to have an accident if you keep following that car too close.”  What bugged me, she was usually right.  “You’ll be sorry”, she’d say.  I usually was and then she was too.  Parents can’t avoid feeling heart broken when a child is hurt.

Laws are meant to guide us to freedom.  Yet, we act recklessly with them; thinking they restrict our freedom to have fun.  Our wild ways are not more amusing because they are risky.  Our unruliness just makes us more foolish.  Yet, when our carelessness with rules and law causes us troubles because we ignored it, we crazily think we should not have to suffer the consequences of our actions.  We want freedom to break the rules and then for bad things not to happen though we abused our freedom.  This is the surest and straightest path to broken heart for both heaven and earth.

God adopted Israel before she was Israel.  God took in a poor slave people who lived in Egypt, who had no chance of being a world power.  God rescued them out of Pharaoh’s hand, gave them the law to live by, and delivered them into a land flowing with milk and honey.  Once they became a nation, Israel begins to model herself after her neighbors; worshipping their gods, rather than model an alternative relationship with the Living God for their neighbors.  Jeremiah expresses this divine hurt.  “Why have my people provoked me to anger with their images and foreign gods?”  They forgot the ancient wisdom that springs forth from Longhorn land: “You got to dance with the one that brung you”.

They ran after these gods; assuming the 1st commandment didn’t apply.  Their lament expresses astonishment God did not protect them from their enemies.  They cry: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved”.  They feel the heat of Babylon’s new ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, in whose image Saddam modeled his reign of terror, ready to march on Jerusalem and take them captive.  They thought they could worship other Gods, and God would be there for them.  They did not get it.

Jeremiah’s words demonstrate God has feelings.  It’s hard to know who is speaking when it says, “My joy is gone; grief is upon me, my heart is sick.”  Whose heart is sick, Jeremiah’s or God’s?  Maybe the point is we don’t know, because we are supposed to feel in the prophet’s agony what God is feeling.  God has wayward children and is a wounded parent.  The prophet gives us a clear vision of God’s heart in one of the most startling rushes of poetic verse in the Bible: “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people.”  God’s heart is broken by their brokenness.

Our living God runs the same gamut of emotions as any human.  This is why a relationship with God is like all love relationships: “If it’s easy, it’s sleazy”.  A real relationship with a real God has real feelings.  Jeremiah is pointed in describing how God feels about their pursuit of other gods; it’s an affront to the God in whose image they were made.

We prefer gods of our own making.  We delude ourselves into thinking they will always be there for us.  They’re products of our own creation and have no capacity to act for or against us.  They are projections of our desires; they cannot give life; they take life away as they draw us from a Living God.  We think idolatry is ancient because we do not pay homage to graven images before brewing our Starbucks.  Yet, anything God has made can be turned into a false god that can enslave and take control and rob us of divine joy.  None of us are immune from the worship of other gods.

Pay attention to the gods of your own making which break God’s heart and ours.  The god of the pulpit is the god of making all happy.  An unhealthy pastor bends backwards; making sure they don’t ask too much of anyone.  We want to be liked so people will attend and give.  Then, we build bigger buildings and everyone will see how God is blessing.  This is an exhausting god.  Even if we make everyone happy with our buildings, budgets and baptisms; the followers of the pastor who tries to make everyone happy will never know the satisfying joy of a real relationship with a living God.  They will forever long for more buildings, budgets and baptisms to keep them happy and their pastor will be tired.

The god of the pew is the god of success with sacrifice.  American Idol illustrates this idolatry; making stars out of unknown people.  If performers make it past Simon, who has made millions being rude; handlers reshape them into the image of American idols.  Clay Aiken, the patron saint of this God, lost by a slim margin to R&B artist Ruben Studdard in Idol’s second season.  He was made over; including a new ’do to cover his oversized ears.  He was not able to break loose from this cultural god till he wrote a book: Learning to Sing: Hearing the Music in Your Life.  His book ignored Idol’s influence as he spoke of the influence of others in his life, including his faith.  The god of success over sacrifice thrives among America’s low culture and wants celebrities not artists.  Disciples who offer self for the sake of success will miss the sacrificial love of a living God experienced by offering self in sacrificial love for others.

Pay attention to the remedies that mend broken hearts.  There are times hearts are broken by necessary losses, which we all know.  These are required and mature us over the passage of time.  There are other times our hearts are broken by losses we bring upon ourselves.  Life gets out of control, our heart loses its connection to God’s heart; feeling God’s absence more than God’s presence.  We seek balms to heal our broken heart; wondering whether our hearts can ever be mended.  Whether our losses are necessary or self-induced God has provided what is needed.

When Jeremiah asks where to go for healing with the odd questions: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” he is making a point.  The balm he references comes from a balsam tree in a mountainous area that produces a medicinal resin used to many cure ills.  These questions are not expressions of concern if help can be found.  These questions mock their self-sufficiency; the people’s attitude they could conjure up resources to fix a problem, heal a disease, and make things right.

There are many things we can handle if we would observe the natural laws of creation.  The “avant garde” movie Tree of Life portrays how creation is governed by law and grace.  For example, if teens would go to school, stay off drugs, stop having children, and delay marriage; many of ills would be healed.  If adults would self-regulate, exercise self-discipline, and put others first; things would be different.  We refuse to listen to built-in warnings because we are still are denying our hearts need to be healed.

Our most enduring problems are spiritual.  We must pay attention to the remedies heaven offers for our broken hearts.  Our God offers forgiveness all the ways we have remade the Living God in our own image.  God offers healing for all the ways it has broken our hearts.   God offers reconciliation for all those relationships damaged by our wandering ways.  God offers redemption for consequences we thought irreversible.  God’s grace may be resistible, but the persistence of God’s grace endures from generation to generation offering remedies for our sin sick and broken hearts.

God didn’t suffer apart from us.  God came to suffer with and for us.  The good news the African slaves sang: “There’s a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.  There’s a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.”  That balm isn’t a salve drawn from a balsam tree that cures from the outside in.  That balm comes from a Savior who hung on a tree; curing from the inside out.  Pay attention to your broken ways.  Be honest with yourself about your brokenness and with God who provides the balms needed to mend your heart.  Your broken heart can be mended and joined again to God.

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Does God of Feel Raw Emotion?

When we read Jeremiah’s words in chapter 8, we see God has feelings.  It’s hard to know in this passage where Jeremiah leaves off speaking and God begins.  When it says, “My joy is gone; grief is upon me, my heart is sick.”  Whose heart is sick Jeremiah’s or God’s?  Maybe the point is we don’t know, because we are supposed to feel in the prophet’s pain what God is feeling.  God has wayward children and God is a wounded parent.  The living God runs the same gamut of emotions as our love for each other in human relationship.  In fact, a relationship with God is like love relationship: “If it’s easy, it’s sleazy”.  A real relationship with a real God will be real with real feelings and real live touch.  We hear God pour out painful words into the prophet’s heart to speak aloud the divine hurt.  “Why have my people provoked me to anger with their images and foreign gods?”  It clear in this passage that the gods we make in our own image are an affront to the God who made us in God’s own image.

Idols do not feelings. They sit on the shelf or on an altar after we have shaped them with our own hands, made them in our own image, and told ourselves they are always there for us.  They can’t talk back nor can they provide joy or ease our pain.  Idols require little and promise us much for our little.  The problem is idols are the product of our own creation; they have no capacity to act for or against us.  They are projections of our own desires.  They cannot give us anything; they can only take from us the life our true God wants to give.  So why do we prefer gods of our own making.  

Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Paying Attention: Conveying Your Passion-Jeremiah 4: 5-8, 14-28

There are fictional villains: Captain Nemo, Professor Moriarty, Lex Luther, Dr. No, and Darth Vader.  Then there is evil personified: Hitler, Stalin, Chairman Mao, Milošević and this week Anders Behring Breivik, who says his actions were “atrocious but necessary”.  These are rotten characters who are brilliant, but skilled at hurting others.  When God files a complaint against Israel in v. 22, says, “They are all skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”  He’s not speaking of a few evil geniuses among the people.  All God’s people were skilled at doing wrong.

In the late 7th century B.C., The northern half of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians; but the southern kingdom, Judah, escaped by becoming an Assyrian satellite.  Judah never learned her spiritual lessons from political troubles; she constantly turned to idols.  God’s judgment arrived in the form of a fully revived and powerful Babylonian empire under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar.  The “scorching wind” in v. 11 Jeremiah speaks of is the divine judgment.  In verse 18 God says, “Your own (ways) conduct and (doings) actions have brought this on you.

It’s easy to distance from ancient Judah just as we distance from super villains.  Judah’s punishment 2,700 years ago seems no more relevant to us than is 007’s strangling of Goldfinger or Batman’s defeat of the Joker.  We are glad to see consequences for those evildoers; so we easily pin the blame on a few grandiose idiots.  That is not what good people do.  God pins the blame for Judah’s judgment in v. 22, when he says:“My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding.”  It’s not just a few evil idiots that caused their trouble.  It says all of them together are “skilled in doing evil.”  Jeremiah asks them to face the reality every person was good at doing bad.

It is so easy to dismiss the problems of our economy on a politician’s self serving way or the greed of some evil Wall Street investment banker.  We are also to blame and responsible for our national deficit.  We utter our cut spending demands unless it effects what Big Brother owes me.  We justify our credit seeking culture despite outrageous usury practices that gave us 20% interest and second liens for things we really don’t need.  We are good at bad.  This is why we should examine our expressions at wrong in the world evil by paying attention first in how we convey our passions.

Our call may take us to the risky arena of conflict.  We may be in a position to be ridiculed by people who will not like what we have to say.  Yet, we are not to sit aloft, watching with apathy, rooted in an uncaring indifference, as if the world is a stage.  This leaves evil within us and without us unchecked in the world.  This is our only life and it is a full blown scrimmage.  Sometimes we will be called to express our passion in a heated situation.

The prophet Jeremiah says God gets angry at the people.  It says, “The fierce anger of the Lord has not turned away from us”.  Since we’re created in the image of God, it must be okay to be angry.  Holy angry should boil up at a man who shoots his ex-wife while two their children are in the back seat; otherwise something is spiritually wrong.  Passions are to be conveyed in a healthy manner; so others can know we care about them and we are willing to take action because it is right and we want the best for others.  In answering the call of God, we will need to pay attention how we convey our passion, so it is consistent to God’s call in our lives.

Jeremiah saw a people who thought they were invulnerable, since God was on their side.  They thought nothing could happen to them no matter how they lived.  They thought their “chosenness” meant God was locked into protecting them against their enemies.  He reminds them they were chosen for a special mission; to reflect the character of God as they bore a light to the nations.  They were to demonstrate God’s desire for a creation where everyone is valued, the vulnerable are treasured; and love of neighbor is a spiritual duty.  God’s missional people started to act like the other nations and not like ambassadors of God to the nations; God’s wrath was kindled, and Jeremiah spoke of God’s anger.

God doesn’t act out of rage; moving directly from anger to action to mete out a form of divine punishment to prove divine authority.  God inspires a prophet to feel the very heart of God and to speak the words of God from the heart.  This is why it is hard to tell who is speaking when we read, “My anguish, my anguish!  I writhe in pain!  Oh, the walls of my heart!  My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent tell.  Is it God or Jeremiah’s voice?  I think both; God and Jeremiah are both speaking.  Jeremiahs feels a deep sadness as he speaks these weeping words about Judah’s evil.  Jeremiah’s heart is crushed for what’s happening to his people.  Jeremiah walks in the shoes of his people while walking with God as he conveys the heart of God for the way they have shipwrecked their lives and world.

We inside the church are not any better in expressing our anger than those outside the church.  I am aware how little anguish I feel in my anger.  Anguish comes from the same root word as anger, meaning grief or sorrow.  Often, anger is a condition that ignores my heart allowing my tongue to work faster than the mind.  We’re to be careful so we don’t move directly from anger to action.  We must pass our anger through anguish before moving to action to reflect the ways of God.  We respond to evil with the heart of God by still feeling the pain of the entire situation.

Would-be prophets rush to speak of God’s judgment; claiming destruction for some named sin.  Some tell us God is judging our capitalist system for oppressing third-world peoples in the interest of preserving our way of life; while others will announce the blessings of God are withheld because we don’t pray in schools.  Some are quick to justify going to war; while others mystifyingly seem to justify the actions of those who threaten our freedom.  I am struck by how people claim to know the mind of God with such clarity.

Jeremiah avoids rash personal judgment regarding God’s holy judgment.  He is caught in the anguish of the words he speaks, rather than the anger they convey.  He understands his passion will not be conveyed, if he speaks too quickly from a lofty position rather than suffer the weight of the tragedy.  So he discharges God’s woeful errand; filled with a blazing passion to impassion the people with understanding for God.  Prophets understand the purpose of a prophet is not to be inspired, but to inspire the people back into a relationship with the living God.  So we convey the passion of our call with a heavy heart for the needs of those we serve.  That same passion bubbles up from a soul full of redemptive love for those to whom our prophetic mission is directed.  To do so we must pay close attention to our hearts as we convey our passions.

Remember when Jesus kneeled down in the dirt with a woman who was about to be stoned for her sin by religious leaders.  Jesus is angry, but he sympathizes with accuser and accused.  He wrote in the dust for what must have seemed like an eternity.  He hesitated; refusing to give the crowds what they might have wanted.  He did not fix an interpretation or pronounce others fate.  He allowed for a moment, so people might have time to see themselves differently.  When he finally spoke, he said, “Let those who are without sin cast the first stone”.

Published in: on July 24, 2011 at 7:19 am  Comments (3)  

How to Get Angry-Anguish

When God conveys anger, God doesn’t move directly from anger to action; acting out of rage.  God doesn’t lash out at the people to prove divine authority.  God inspires a prophet to feel the very heart of God and to speak the words of God from the heart.  It is hard to tell in the text who is speaking God or Jeremiah.  “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent.”  (Jeremiah 4: 18)  I think God and Jeremiah or both speaking.  Jeremiah, “The Weeping Prophet,”heart was crushed; distressed by what’s happening to his people.  The weeping of Jeremiah over Judah’s evil puts him in their shoes; weeping with God over the evil within his own people.

The problem with those of us inside the church is we are not any better in expressing our anger than those outside the church.  We move from directly from anger to action; poorly reflecting the ways of God.  We must pass our anger through anguish before moving to action.  Anguish comes from the same root word as anger, either meaning grief or sorrow.  This allows the heart of God to respond to evil with judgment and still feel the pain of it all.  Jeremiah is God’s model how to do the same.  Jeremiah was filled with a blazing passion, and it was this emotional intensity, which drove him to discharge God’s woeful errands.

Yet, the purpose of a prophet is not to be inspired, but to inspire the people.  Prophets are not just to be filled with a passion, but to impassion the people with understanding for God.  Jeremiah’s suffered in sympathy with God whose heart was broken by his chosen but wayward people.  Jeremiah possessed a soul full of love, but his prophetic mission caused his heart to rend in wrath with the heart of God.  It must have been horrible to be a prophet of wrath.  Yet his anguish conveyed the heart of God for all the people of God.

Published in: on July 19, 2011 at 8:16 am  Comments (2)  

“Paying Attention: Nurturing Your Soul” Jeremiah 2: 4-13

All American children under twelve huddled on Sunday nights in front of their Zeniths, except my sister and I.  We were in church.  Mom told us we would be a part of the faithful remnant going straight to heaven if Jesus came while the unsaved watched Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday.

I remember my good fortune when I was able to stay home and watch the Wizard of Oz which, came on once a year.  Remember this scene?   Dorothy pours water on the Wicked Witch of the West and she melts. The monkeys and guards start dancing, because they discover the witch was unreal.  When Dorothy awoke in Kansas from her colorful dream, she finds the world of storms, fears, lost dogs, nasty neighbors, and inconvenient love is the most real world of all.  Real life is a life indebted the people who loved her; whom she had thought she had rather escape.

Jeremiah indicts Judah for her faithlessness, which caused her to forsake the certainty of faithful God and flee to whims of her own desires.  He offers these words of righteous rage:  “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cracked cisterns that hold no water.”

Before there were sprinklers, irrigation, running water, indoor plumbing, huge reservoirs, and big towers, people dug cisterns to capture rain.  They were large clay containers held water when needed.  Two problems with cisterns: 1. No one can make it rain and; 2. the drier it became the more the cisterns cracked and didn’t hold water even when it did rain.  Temperatures soared this week and ground cracked causing everything else to crack.  This photo was taken Tuesday of water shooting 40-50 feet in the air in Oklahoma City because of severe ground cracking.

Jeremiah is saying people who build their lives by pursing temporal things will crack under the pressure of real life and will not be able to hold living water, which nourishes for lifetime and beyond.  Ironically, they were trying to secure their lives by storing up things to make their life worth living.  In this case, they littered their lives with ungodly alliances and affairs. Eventually these associations would crack God’s people.  They lacked a relationship with a living that could nourish them through any challenge or crisis.  Let’s learn from them how we can pay attention to nurturing our souls so to hear more clearly the call of God in our life.

Israel became promiscuous after forgetting from whom her prosperity came.  God rescued them from slavery in Egypt when they were nothing; no land of their own, and no future; brought them into the land of promise, a life of plenty.  Once there, they forgot the God who by sheer grace gave them everything.

God must feel like a spurned parent after sacrificing to raise a child.  A child arrives at adolescence living a blessed life: meals for the table, nice clothes and shoes, in some cases an insured, registered, and maintained car, and in most cases niceties they cannot afford if they worked full time.  Yet, the dependable parent is casts aside for the less than dependable peers, who may be their best friend one moment and the next act as if they don’t exist.  They trade the people who gave them life and opportunity for hormone stricken, not ready for prime time peeps who as unpredictable as the role of a die.  The parent is heartbroken and the wounds run deep  This is how God feels when we forgot who we are and to whom we belong.

All of us can recall when we first came to know the love of God in our lives in an unconditional and real way.  It may have occurred when things were out of sorts and we turned in faith to Christ; giving ourselves wholly to God.  God comes in different ways; but having our heart strangely warmed is the experience for many.  Some may be light years from that experience; we no longer feel God’s pleasure or fear God’s jealousy for our heart.  I ask you: “Are you more satisfied with what we have pursued; forgetting the God who claimed than when your heart was first strangely warmed?”  Cracking begins when our forgetfulness leads to our faithlessness.

Our faithfulness fools us into thinking we deserve what is ours.  Sooner or later, that empty logic leaves us empty.  Enough things are needed for happiness; but more cannot make us happy.  Our faithlessness causes us to forget all we have comes from the gracious hand of God whose mercy never ends.  When we are running dry, we’re reluctant to face the root problem, forgetfulness.  Happiness continues to be the object of our pursuit instead of the result of our obedience.

Golf stores seduce me: shiny 3 woods, perfect putters, and wily wedges.  These are things I want, but hardly need.  The best part about golf stores is the ability to negotiate price; making material pursuit more enticing.  I’ve been in the middle of parleying a deal and become frightfully aware how my emotions are jumping at the prospect of the purchase.

The symptoms of increasing spiritual forgetfulness can be seen in the way we save, spend, or give.  The more we pursue worthless things, the more worthless we feel and eventually become.  Symptoms can manifest inwardly in our souls as we break faith; behave selfishly; or neglect spiritual nourishment.  Symptoms can also manifest in our outwardly in our relationships as we resist vulnerability to friends and family.  These are symptoms of a faithless and cracked soul that is leaking living water because we have forgotten the open and generous hand of God.

The people of Israel were unwilling to make the changes to renew the relationship with God.  Instead, they fled to Baal, the Canaanite water god.  Baal worship involved no moral commitment, self-sacrifice, or social duty to the poor.  Baal made no demands like those nosy Ten Commandments; it provided pleasure with no inconvenience.  Jeremiah likens their affection for Baal to an affair, where there are no claims, responsibilities, diapers, trash to take out, in-laws, mortgage, or burdens.  It is adoration without obligation.  They chose a god who told them what they wanted to hear and never held them accountable.

This is going on in American religion and we are not immune from it.  We tweak of theology to make God more benign and friendlier.  Do I come to church to be with my friends or to ask God to search my heart?  Do I come to church so the church might make me happy by meeting my needs or do I come to listen to call of God?  Any day, I expect to find a section on religion in Consumer Reports.  Imagine the categories of consumer friendly churches: softest pews, easiest listening music, least controversial sermons, most convenient parking, fewest expectations for members, and discounts on tithing.  These are the facetious gods of our own making.

The more we seek happiness by our own doing, the more it eludes us.  Happiness is found as we nourish our souls on living water; the more we drink the happier we are.  It’s like the old dog that sees a young pup chasing his tail.  He tells the young canine, “I did the same when I was young; but I eventually learned if I went about my business, it always followed right behind.”  The truth about happiness it is within us if we will spiritually nourish our inner person with the living water of Christ.

Jeremiah paints a picture of demanding God; who demands we should nurture our relationship with the one who wants to bless us with a fountain of water that springs up to eternal life and never runs dry.  This demanding God is a real, worthy, substantial; who can deliver according to our deepest needs and nourish our souls with living water.

This morning during our purposeful reflection I invite you to think how you might nourish your soul.  Consider paying attention in a specific habit that can support the call of God in your life.  Wesley called soul nourishing practices means of grace.  The means of grace are outward and visible ways to open our hearts to God’s work in us.  Means of grace can be divided into two categories, works of piety and works of mercy.  I hope you will make a commitment to one or several means of grace this week in nourishing your soul; they are essential to living out a call of God..

This is a picture of one of the world’s largest fountains.  Every twenty minutes the water crescendos to this spectacular display.  These pictures don’t tell of the continual care and renovation of this fountain.  This fountain is permanently endowed so the water will never run dry.

Pay attention to how you nourish your soul may not forget and forsake the call of God in our lives.  The call of God requires us to nourish our inward souls with living water from a fountain that will never run dry.  When our souls, the containers of our lives, are watered with living water out of a relationship with Christ they will not crack; leaving us empty.  We will be vessels of living water, up to being and doing what God calls us to do or be.

Published in: on July 17, 2011 at 7:24 am  Leave a Comment  

A Slippery Slope-Jeremiah 2: 4-13

Jeremiah says that forgetfulness leads to faithlessness and faithlessness to more forgetfulness.  When things are going well, our tendency is to forget the hand of God that blesses us and to think we are the cause of our own success.  That gets us thinking, ever so subtly, that we deserve what we have.  But sooner or later, that empty logic leaves us empty too.  Rather than going to back to the root of the problem, we turn our attention to superficial things to fill the emptiness.  We start making happiness the object of our pursuit instead of the result of our obedience.

Published in: on July 11, 2011 at 7:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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Paying Attention: Hearing Your Call Jeremiah 1:4-10

I don’t think boy Jeremiah dreamed of being a prophet as he watched his father conduct services as a priest of Israel.  I know because becoming a pastor was the furthest thing from my mind as I watched my grandfather pastor and my father lead worship as a lay person who loved the church.  I was all about sports and I still am; dreaming of walking the fairways with Rory and those other young flat bellies.  I never followed that dream.  I went to seminary to prepare for the ministry.  If anyone asks why; I respond definitively, God called me.  Some might ask how I knew God called.

There are things alike and things unique about God’s calling.  The common thread to all our calls is God took the initiative created each of us for a purpose.  God knows us and wants us to know the joy of living out that purpose.  The unique aspects of our calls are the particulars, which are a little more difficult.  Each person’s call is unique and it is necessary to pay close attention to the current call of God in our lives.

Most people live out their call; doing the work of Christ in the world.  Others do so; doing work of Christ in the church.  There’s no greater or lesser call.  The notion of a higher calling suggests your pastor is more useful than the person who cleaned our room this week.  I wanted the voice of preaching professor, Joel Gregory.  One of the finest preachers is Fred Craddock; a slight man with a voice he describes as, “the sound of wind whistling through a fence post.”  No one can tell a story like he, though I have tried.  God gives each unique gifts for God’s glory, the world’s benefit, and our delight and we have to pay attention if we are to discern God’s call.

I invite each of us to examine our current call from God.   I am asking you to answer a simple question in writing.  I want to read what you write and perhaps publish your call stories so others may hear your witness of what God is doing in your life.  The question is: What is God calling me to “be” or “do” over the next three to five years?  Some of you can answer the question before you leave; that would be great.  Others will want to take some time, that is fine since we are going to explore this question over the next seven weeks; walking beside the prophet, Jeremiah.

The exercise serves two purposes: 1.) It allows every person to reexamine how they offer their gifts to the church and community in order to strengthen the Body of Christ.  2.) It allows me to become acquainted with you who are answering their call at FUMC, Irving.  I hope to engage us into an ongoing conversation about the call God in our life.  Paying attention to hearing our call insures what we are doing is true to the person God fashioned and to specific purpose for this present hour.   Let’s unpack in some more detail why God calls and how we hear God’s call; using Jeremiah’s call as our template.

Why does God call us?-For a specific purpose.  Jeremiah was called from the womb to speak a prophetic word during a time of crisis as the infrastructure of the country was collapsing and being overthrown by foreign invaders.  If Jeremiah did not sense he was called for this specific purpose, he could not have endured an arduous and painful prophetic career.  During his forty plus years of forth telling and foretelling, no one listened to him and his family and kinsfolk turned away from him.  Jeremiah knew in his bones he was fashioned to answer this call.  He could not choose otherwise or he would have been crosswise with God’s purpose in his life.  The matter of whether it is hard or easy is beside the point.  The point is we must do this is the specific purpose for which we were made.

How we hear God’s call?-God takes the initiative.  Jeremiah’s call story begins: The word of the Lord came to me.  His call to be a prophet was God’s idea.  If there is a calling, there is a Caller.  God, the Caller, designs us with gifts and desires that can only be satisfied by tuning into the frequency of God’s voice and turn to the frequency of daily service of God’s world.  Since God made us in this way, it is fair to say God is more interested in our knowing our call than we in knowing it.  So, God comes in various ways; taking the initiative; so we might hear the voice of God that beckons us to offer our unique ministry to God’s world.  This is our one and only life; not someone elses.  A sure way to miss out on the call of God is to try to live another person’s life on their behalf.

When I was considering my call to be a pastor, I took a long look at how God had shaped me.  I knew as a boy I loved to go to church, I could memorize Scripture without difficulty, I was always called upon to pray, and I hated to choose up sides in games because someone would always feel left out.  Others also told me should consider the ministry, because they saw gifts in me that fit.  When I was honest with myself I was at home in the church.  When I said aloud God called me to be a pastor I was recognizing God took the initiative calling me for the specific purpose of being a pastor of a local church, a call I remained faithful to now for 30 years.

It is important to distinguish between a vocation and an occupation.  An occupation is something you can do; a vocation is something you cannot not do.  Vocation comes from the Latin “vocare”, to call.  There are lots of voices that call.  We are to pay attention to these voices; making sure they are not the voice of our mother who wants us be a doctor or our father who wants us in the family business.  The work we cannot not do is the shaping work in our life where God took the initiative and made us for that work because it fulfills a purpose in the kingdom of God.  It is about making a life more than making a living.  Frederick Buechner says: God calls you to the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.  Paying attention requires hearing our own specific and current call.

It is easy to feel as Jeremiah, too young, not from the right school, right stock, or the right sex.  Humility is a good since it makes us depend upon God to put words in our mouth if we are called to speak and it gives us a heart of empathy to work with people in need.  God will support our call by empowering and sustaining us.  If God has called, we are up to it-Period!  There is no need to fear, cause for arguing, or running from the call.

That brings me to the current call of God in my life.  I am currently working through of call of God in my life that is as sure as they day God called me to the office of pastor.  I have only experienced this sort of conviction about the call of God in my life one other time, which is when I felt the call to take leave from being a Baptist pastor to living out my call as a Methodist pastor.  (Long Story)  Before I ask you to convey your call to your pastor, allow your pastor to convey the call of God in his life for this present day.

God has clearly conveyed to me the day is over when people will come to the house of God.  God has been equally clear the church house is to go to the people’s houses.  I have been talking to God about what this means for several years.  My recent work with my Doctorate of Ministry has clarified what it means to employ those called to incarnational insurgent ministries in their schools, neighborhoods, workplaces, etc; shining the light of Christ into our community.  I believe God has led me to FUMC to live out the next steps of this call.  I do not know exactly what that means nor do I assume any outcome.  I am fine, not knowing how this will turn out.  So, invite others who feel called in like manner to join me in prayer and holy conversation next Sunday morning at 8:30.  I don’t know if this is the best, but I know this is something I cannot not do.

Now, the future may not make any sense if we follow the call of God in our life.  So we choose the wise road; balancing our earthly obligations with our heavenly pursuits.  It is easy to substitute temporal things for eternal.  We feel censored by circumstance or muted by family matters.  That’s why God is unbending in taking the initiative in our lives; calling us to live into the specific purpose for which we were created.

Graciously, God allows us to decide what we will do with the call of God in our life.  Points of decision come as God calls us to new places, ways, and days.  Our founder, John Wesley could have chosen to remain a priest in a spiritually dead church; quietly cashing his government paycheck taking a safe road to his future.  Instead not knowing the future he birthed a Methodist movement, which we are the benefactors today.  FUMC, Irving has made it for over hundred plus years, not by asking how we should we be faithful to our founders.  The essential question of call is how I shall be faithful to the Lord who is the foundation of the church in every age.

Barry McClenahan was a helicopter pilot who flew missions rescuing wounded soldiers and delivering medical supplies.  One night, while off duty, a ruckus broke out in the Officers Club.  Everyone was hauled off to the brig.  After a sleepless night, Barry was roused by the sound of his commanding officer’s voice: McClenahan, he said, speaking to the MP, “He is to be released immediately.”  When the guard resisted, the CO said he was needed to perform an important mission.  “He belongs to me, he said.  We belong to Christ!  Christ comes calls our name and we have important work to do in the Kingdom of God.  Are we paying attention so we might hear the call of God in our life?  Pay Attention!, for God’s sake and your sake!  God is calling all of us for a specific purpose.

Published in: on July 10, 2011 at 6:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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